Portrait of Nabil Sater

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Photo by Kara Fili

Nabil Sater is co-owner of The Middle East Restaurant and Nightclub in Cambridge, MA

In the late 1800’s there were problems in Lebanon and so my great-grandfather immigrated to Mexico and his brother immigrated to Columbia. My mother was actually born in Columbia but lived in Mexico because her parents were visiting her uncle at the time of her birth. My great-grandfather eventually became very ill so the family moved back to Lebanon.

When I was around 20 years old I decided to move to Mexico for about a year to visit the relatives I still had over there and to learn Spanish. I remember the day I left we had over 40 people come to our house to eat and celebrate and send me off with gifts to give to the family in Mexico. I’ll never forget the day I arrived in the Mexico City airport. I asked one of the workers to watch my bags while I used the restroom and when I came out… allof my bags were gone. I felt awful! My uncle had to take me shopping because I had nothing but the clothes on my back. It was quite the lesson to learn! Luckily I can laugh about it now.

I applied for a student visa in Mexico but they wouldn’t give me one so I got a visa from the United States and went to college in Texas. I came to this country with no English, no money, no friends, no relatives… I just landed here and began my journey.

I learned English and went to school before I started working in different industries. After living in several different cities around the U.S. I went to the Boston area in 1971 at the recommendation of a friend from Lebanon who I coincidentally bumped into on the street in Texas! You never know who you will run into and what kinds of life-changing conversations you’ll have… this has been my home ever since.

Once I got here, I took up different jobs – my first one was flipping hamburgers at a Jack in the Box—and I continued my schooling at  Northeastern University. Later, I got a job at Polaroid but eventually got laid off. I realized I was drawn to the independence of owning a business so I wanted to try my hand at that.

The Middle East was an existing restaurant in Cambridge, but the owners, who were also from Lebanon, wanted to sell it. I was interested and so I worked there for a year with no pay to learn the business and get to know the clientele. In 1974, I bought the restaurant. My former wife, Evelyn helped me a great deal and my brother moved to Boston from Europe where he had been living for a while to help me run the place too. During the civil war in Lebanon I brought my sister and my parents here as well which really made the restaurant what it is today – a family-run business serving Lebanese food with some Mexican and South American flare in flavor and atmosphere. We host music, dance and entertainment seven days a week for local artists and world-renown acts alike. I’ve never considered myself to be an artist but I’ve always wanted to provide a place for artists to do their work.

In my head and my heart, I belong to many different cultures, which has enriched my life and helped me to learn, resolve conflicts and connect with people. I love welcoming so many different kinds of people from different cultures and places and walks of life into my business. It also reminds me of being at my mother’s house back in Lebanon. People were always coming over! It was a gathering place, a place where people came to eat, have a good time and be together. And that’s what we do here. This may be our place of work, but it feels like home. And so does this country, specifically this community of Cambridge.

The support and generosity of people in this country has helped us get through hard times and achieve successes. Everything from sponsorship to help me get my visa to helping me get a job, a place to live, a meal when I was hungry. Even total strangers have been good to me. We try to pay it forward and do our part to make our community strong and vibrant. This is an amazing country. We love it, and we are grateful and proud to be Americans.

Interview by Kara Fili

Portraits of People on the Move tells the stories of Philadelphia-area immigrants through their own words on the Supperdance.com blog and was first shown as an exhibition in June 2015, at the Gray Area of Crane Arts in Philadelphia. The exhibition was created as a companion work to Supper, People on the Move by Cardell Dance Theater, a dance inspired by themes of migration.

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